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City meat wholesaler fined, put on probation


A Baltimore meat wholesaler with a history of health code violations has agreed to pay a $5,000 fine and was placed on probation for three years after pleading guilty this week to two violations of state health law.

Michael Tsang, who owns United Foods Co. in the 600 block of W. Saratoga St. near Lexington Market, had his food permit revoked by the city's Department of Health after an inspection in September by city and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials revealed major rodent infestation. He has sinced corrected the violations and was allowed to purchase a new food permit on June 2.

According to Health Department records, Mr. Tsang has been cited at least five times prior to September's inspection, starting in April 1989 for rodent infestation.

During September's unannounced, random inspection, nearly 11,000 pounds of poultry, beef and pork were condemned by inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the city Health Department. The meat, which was found in the company's freezers, showed signs of gnawing by rodents, inspectors said.

In addition, rodent droppings were found in the freezers and on the meat itself.

Inspectors also found Mr. Tsang cutting up chicken that had been previously USDA inspected on a deteriorated table in his warehouse and repacking it. The warehouse was not refrigerated and rodent droppings were found near the cutting table. Mr. Tsang's permit only allows him to store meat, not to process it, Health Department officials said.

Because of his history of repeated past violations, Health Department officials took the unusual move of revoking Mr. Tsang's permit and criminal charges were filed against him.

"It's very rare," said Jerry D. Welch, chief of the Health Department's division of environmental health. Mr. Welch said he has been involved with food inspection since 1976 and could only remember two other instances where a food wholesaler's permit was revoked. Usually, suspending a wholesaler's permit is enough to encourage compliance with heath regulations.

Mr. Tsang told health inspectors that the meat in the freezer had been returned and he was storing it until it could be discarded. Mr. Welch said that may have been true, but he felt the city could not allow him to store that much contaminated meat.

"I felt we could not tolerate anybody storing a large amount of food like that and the potential for the food to be sold or to be distributed to the community was too great," he said.

Mr. Tsang faced a year in jail and a $10,000 fine for each of the two counts of manufacturing and storing adulterated food products had he gone to trial next Monday. Instead, he pleaded guilty earlier this week, received the $5,000 fine, probation and promised not to incur future violations.

Mr. Welch said state law mandates that the Health Department inspect United Foods within one year, but because of past violations, an inspection likely will take place sooner.

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